Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chapter Thirty-Two

The Audi was parked just off the road near the McDonald’s, with a clear sight of both lanes of traffic. The sky was settling into the first few minutes of an early night. The inside of the car was lit by the sickly orange of the streetlights and Katherine Reece was cursing herself for losing the red Escort, grinding her teeth as she tried to think. She’d let Prayer literally slip through her fingers.
Shit, she’d been only perhaps twenty feet away from the girl. So close. There was a trembling sensation deep inside her now, as though her confrontation with the crew-cut man in the car park was finally beginning to take hold of her. She pressed her hands to her lips, and in the rear-view she saw that tears were snaking their way down her face. She felt like she’d been blinded, touched by some immovable fate. She was far gone now, she knew; any semblance of a comfortable and controlled world had fallen away.
I’m a rogue, she thought darkly, I’m actually a rogue. Christ…
Rogues were usually eliminated. The very rich and well-connected ones were rumoured to live in foreign countries under false names. She was just a Nottingham girl who had worked hard to hide even the slightest trace of her accent whist studying at Oxford.
But no, that was rubbish. She couldn’t swallow that line anymore. She was a murderer, a destroyer masquerading as a healer. She was banal, and previously useful. Not now. Now they would hunt her down like a rabid dog, and a part of Katherine knew that she deserved it. The men she had killed had been corrupt, vicious sociopaths masquerading as business men and philanthropists. Much like the men that had ordered their deaths, she supposed now. Men she had previously respected and admired.
Men like Deacon. And even men like Wesley.
A hollow laugh escaped her. She wondered if it was the incipient chaos of panic that was beginning to take her over. She would probably never get back to see her parents for Christmas. That sobering thought sent a genuine shiver skittering over her shoulders. She shuddered, pressing her mouth closed to stifle a sob of pain. As she knew because of Sean, the dead spoke louder than the living, and the living slept deeper than the dead. So either way she decided to cut it, there was no absolution on the cards.
Atonement was the only thing within her reach, she thought strangely. Maybe she could atone if she could find the girl, and buy back some good karma from the universe. It wouldn’t save her, but maybe it would halt her descent into that bleak goodbye. She laughed and began slamming a balled fist into her forehead.
“Happy birthday, baby…happy birthday, baby…happy birthday…” She ground her teeth together, trying to will herself into a space of clarity, to summon up some inspired creative thinking. She slammed her fist into her forehead again. “Happy birthday, baby…”
She needed to find Prayer before Interregnum did. She needed to halt what was happening. But Prayer was kneeling now. She couldn’t stop any of this. What on earth made her think she could? She felt so utterly and irreversibly alone. And she deserved every moment of it. “Happy fucking birthday, Sean.”

***

They were dressed in Metropolitan Police uniforms; three of them, standing in the darkness of the Aquinas Cinema and waving torches back and forth. Only one of them had once been a genuine policeman – Dr James ‘Ripper’ Cullen, the head of the extraction team. He’d been a DI back in the late eighties, also a distinguished criminal psychologist. But he was more than that. His work with the police was freelance now. His true allegiance, like his father before him, was with only one group.
To James Cullen the charred darkness seemed heavier than it should have, like it had once breathed the old smoke that hung in the torch-beams and was now itself close to death. One of the men broke from his group, searching, and the torch found a bloodied, broken body. A sharp inhalation of breath. He wandered across, already seething, and gazed down at Carl’s mutilated corpse. “I told him to wait. I ordered him to wait…”
The first one put the beam back on their dead associate. “Ripper, this girl’s got some serious mojo.” He kneeled and put the light on the dead man’s chest. “I mean, the heart’s gone…she took his fucking heart.”
“I ordered him to wait,” Cullen said again through gritted teeth. “He knew what the girl was capable of. I told him she wasn’t a domesticated kitten. What the hell was he thinking?”
“It’s not like Carl to do anything irrational, Ripper. I don’t get it…”
“Do you think she managed to get the trapdoor?” asked the other one, an unprofessional tremor in his voice. Cullen laughed humourlessly and nodded.
“Of course she did.” He flashed his torch about in the blackness. “They’ve had clerics in here over and over again. None of them could get it. But none of them could do what Cole can do. She got it all right.” He laughed again. “Snatched it right out of the darkness.”
“You can’t know that. Maybe it was too deep.”
The head of the extraction team shook his head. “I know it.” He pulled a mobile phone from his pocket and strode back the way they had come. “I need to call Angelina.”
The other two followed him through the scarred doors and down the basement corridor to the exit. They hurried out and up the metal staircase.
A silver Metropolitan Police car with the lights flashing silently was parked behind the building, beside the large mound of junk. The other two unlocked the doors and climbed inside, waiting as their superior made the call.
He punched in the number and waited, the slim encrypted phone to his ear.
“Yes?”
“It’s me,” he said, “Cole’s gone, Kistori’s children too. Carl’s dead. Looks like he’s been worked over with a sledge hammer. I told him to stay away but he went in alone. She took his heart. Literally tore it from his chest.”
“She’s eaten it.”
Excuse me…?”
“You heard what I said. I’m losing my affection for this child. Why the hell did Carl disobey a direct order?”
“I have no idea, Ma’am.”
“Shit. You can’t control your men, Jack?”
He took a breath. “I wasn’t there, Angel. You were the one that hand-picked Carl. He’s B-Chapter and that was your call, not mine.”
There was silence on the line for a few moments. “Okay,” she said quietly, “So we have no idea where they are?”
He glanced up at the black night, and the few stars that glittered there. “The son’s car is here and Carl’s van is gone. Was it equipped with a transmitter?”
“Yes; he got it from a Chapter safehouse. There were weapons in that van.”
“Great…”
“You hear me, Jack? They’re armed. Congratulations.”
“There’s more,” he said. “I’m on hallowed ground; Location-Nine. I think that Cole found a trapdoor.” More silence on the line. “Did you hear me, Angel?”
“You can’t be certain of that. We’ve tried ourselves and-”
“We can both feel it,” he told her. “And if we’re right…that means she can open a pathlight.” More silence. He waited for her to say something useful.
“Damn this place…”
Her voice was a whisper. She sounded genuinely afraid. He’d never heard fear in her voice before, in fact he assumed that nothing in this world could scare her. He glanced up at the black night again, realising that her fear was making him edgy. Edgy people made mistakes.
“I’m going to need some co-ordinates on the van. Get B-Chapter and patch the data through to my phone. Do it now.”
“I’m on it,” she said quietly. “Listen to me; when you use the coil, use it for only a thirty second burst. Any more than thirty seconds and you might kill her.”
“I know. I read the Lit.”
“This isn’t nursery school, Jack – do your fucking job.” He heard her take a deep breath. “I’m sending a containment-unit to mop up Carl. Wait until they arrive.”
James Cullen ended the call and slipped the phone into his police jacket. Things had just got dangerous.

***

They sat in silence in the white Transit as they headed towards their father’s flat, both of them fully aware that Prayer was locked behind them in the back. Serima was still trembling a little and Jobe could only watch helplessly. From the corner of his eye he saw his little sister smooth her hair down with both hands. She sighed deeply; a long, shimmering breath, and said, “Guess what?”
Jobe felt totally empty but he smiled and glanced at her. “What?”
“I have a boyfriend.”
He almost wanted to laugh at this particular confession; at any other time he would have engaged with her completely, doing his best to make her feel good and confident. But he could barely bring himself to speak.
“Why are you telling me this now?” he managed. She shrugged and he saw tears glistening in her eyes. The van cruised smoothly with the traffic. “What’s his name?”
“Michael.”
Jobe glanced through the small window behind his head and saw Prayer in the dark, her legs hooked under her, her back against some boxes. He looked again at his sister. “Is he cool?”
“He’s nice…a little bland. Reminds me a lot of you actually...”
Jobe didn’t know what to say to that. He felt a pang of strange guilt, then a flare of anger. “You think I’m bland?” he managed, trying to smile.
“No, Jobe, I think you’re anything but bland. I mean he’s reflective like you. Noble.”
“Have you slept together?”
“Yes, of course,” she told him, looking as empty as he felt.
“What was it like?” he asked, “First time?”
She shrugged. “Exactly what I thought it’d be. Really enjoyable.”
Jobe gave a hollow laugh and nodded. “It is at that.”
“He wasn’t the first,” she informed him. He couldn’t think what to say to that either. He remained silent.
“Just being with someone,” Serima said quietly. “I wonder how I’ll ever live without it. I don’t think I can be alone like you. You pushed her away, man. Made her hate you. You wanted her to hate you. Emma would’ve married you, you know. She told me. I think she had a whole career in stand-up comedy planned out for the both of you. And Monica just sits there, taking it all on the chin. Frankly, I don’t know how either you can be alone.”
He tightened his grip on the steering wheel. “I’m not alone. I didn’t have a choice.”
Serima was silent for a moment, and then she said, “You wish you’d let mum kill you that night, don’t you?” Jobe said nothing. “You didn’t stab her to protect yourself, you did it to protect me from her. That was the one thing in the world that you couldn’t bare. Losing me. I know, Jobe. Don’t think I don’t know.”
Tears were in Jobe’s eyes now and he nodded gently, trying to focus on the road but feeling a torrent of grief threatening to burst inside him. It sickened him, filling him with a dark cynicism that he would have enjoyed if he knew how.
“You’ll never know how much I love you, Jobe. I adore you. You were like a god to me. You still are.”
“Don’t say things like that.”
She turned and stared at him, a piercing, relentless stare. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. “You did the right thing in bringing this girl. I think she’s the only thing that can help us. I love you, Jobe. And I’m so fucking scared.”
Jobe took a hand from the wheel and touched the side of her face. “I love you too. We’ll make it through this, Googley. And then you and me, Monica, Michael, Anna, Jamie – we’ll all get totally stoned and drunk…and we’ll listen to albums until the sun comes up.”
Serima smiled, though she didn’t look like she believed him

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